By Richard H Dick James
55 years ago, February-March 1966, I was a SGT E-5 assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group in South Vietnam. I was assigned as the Demolition Specialist at Camp Cai Cai (SF Detachment A-412) in the northern Mekong Delta near the Cambodian border. Our team employed a female housekeeper to keep our living quarters clean, two young Vietnamese male cooks to keep us nourished, a boy who did laundry, one who gave us haircuts and did our carpentry work, and one who did odd jobs. We also hired a couple of interpreters. Part of our pay was for separate rations. In other words, we did not receive food from the Army, or from any of our chain of command. We were responsible to obtain food for ourselves. At Cai Cai, each team member paid $40 a month in military scrip (MPC—Military Payment Certificate), for food and servants. We paid the hired help in Vietnamese piastres. We paid about 15¢ for soft drinks and 20-25¢ for a can of beer. We had a small refrigerator for beer and soft drinks, located behind our team house bar. On the refrigerator door was a sheet of paper, with our names and two columns, one for soft drinks and the other for beer. We were to make a mark for each drink we took out of the refrigerator. At the end of the month, the totals were tallied, and we paid for what we had consumed. All money paid to us was in the form of military scrip. We had a choice as to how much we received in country, and how much was sent to our home of record (in American dollars). The Vietnamese loved to receive (#1) American dollars and (#2) Military Payment Certificates (MPC). They were worth a lot more than Vietnamese cash (piastre, aka dong). During 1967 I kept hearing that the scrip might be changed. That would really put a crimp on the Vietnamese who accepted military scrip (especially the prostitutes and black marketeers), since they were the ones who liked MPC the most, and that would leave them suddenly with a lot of worthless paper, since old scrip was not able to be traded in for new scrip off post, and the changeover and trade-off was for one day only. It wasn’t done until 21 October 1968, on only that day, and all posts were closed on that day, with no personnel able to leave post. Allied camps in Vietnam usually had to be on high alert as soon as darkness set in. The enemy did not normally attack a camp during the hours of daylight, due to the dominant air support afforded our camps, resulting in heavy losses for the enemy. When they did attack, normally at o-dark-thirty in the early morning or late-night hours, the first enemy mortar rounds would usually strike the team house and commo bunker. Their intelligence was usually excellent, and their aim was almost always right on target. I usually slept in my skivvies and OD T-shirt. My pants and boots were next to my bed, boots facing outward, so I could step into them immediately. I rigged my boots with non-Army issue zipper units, so all I had to do was zip them shut. It saved a lot of time, compared to lacing and tying them, When not in a rush to dress, I always turned my boots upside down and shook them before putting them on my feet, to make sure there were no critters in them. My fatigue shirt and web gear hung on the corner of my cot, ready to don. It took seconds to dress with the advent of any unusual or dangerous noise. My rifle leaned against my cot, within reach even while lying down. In a surprise combat situation every second counts. Our building was near the middle of the camp (there was a CIDG barracks between our building and the camp berm), consisting of a long hallway with thirteen bedroom cubicles on either side (we weren’t superstitious), a “bathroom,” shower facilities, a kitchen, and a common room (meeting room/dayroom/dining room/movie theater/recreation room/bar/I think you probably get the picture). The flooring throughout our team house was cement slab. Each “bedroom” was approximately a 12’x12’ cubicle, furnished with a single metal cot with mosquito netting, a plain wooden desk, chair, minimal shelving, and inch-wide plastic streamers for our doorways. Each room in our team house was separated by cement bricks halfway up, with matted curtain continuing to the ceiling. At the west end of the team house were our toilet and shower facilities. At the east end, closest to the observation tower and TOC, was our common room. There was NO air conditioning, except for a small table fan that rotated about 180º in the common room, and no sofas or easy chairs (everything was either metal or wooden). The common room consisted of a four-shelf bookcase, about six feet long, with about 100 books, for reading and reference material. Several plain wooden tables in the common room, with white tablecloths, could seat six people each. They were used for our poker/pinochle games in the evening, for dining, and miscellaneous uses. Our wooden chairs were quite comfortable, with sloped backs and arm rests.
Although we didn’t have the comforts of a Stateside home, we had enough comforts to make life bearable in a hostile environment. It was, after all, home away from home, despite the location. Every once in a great while we received movies from the C-team. We had a movie projector and a whopping big 18” x 36” screen (read carefully—that’s inches, NOT feet) in our “common” room. Ah, the wonderful comforts of home! Keep in mind that the movies had to be approved by officers in high places who didn’t want the men’s virtues to suffer from watching a suggestive movie, or one with too much violence; officers whose taste obviously didn’t mirror ours. The movies we received were normally those that were of good quality, but not usually of much interest to us. We didn’t have much storage space for food, and food supplies were few and far between, so each meal was usually minimal. If a team member wanted seconds, he had better finish firsts pretty quickly. I became pretty good at that. In fact, I was deservedly christened with the nickname “Slurp” after a teammate accused me of “slurping” rather than eating my meal, guaranteeing me seconds. That nickname stuck with me throughout the remainder of my Special Forces service. In fact, my second commander at Vinh Gia (A-422), CPT Morris, always referred to me as “Slurp,” rather than Staff Sergeant James. When acting as a part time radio operator there I even ended some radio transmission messages with the words “Slurp Sends.” During one meal our team medic was kept busy in the dispensary treating wounded CIDG soldiers. Suddenly, realizing that he might miss his share of food, he picked up a lower leg he had just amputated from a CIDG soldier, carried it into our meal area, and ceremoniously laid it on one of the tables. That act caused the remainder of us to lose our appetites, thereby leaving plenty of food for him upon completion of his duties. Our medics in Vietnam were almost always busy, running daily sick call for our indigenous troops and their families, and working in the dispensary, when not on patrol or treating civilians in the nearby villages. From Book #3, of my four-book set of “SLURP SENDS!” Books #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”). # 2 (SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”), #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret In Vietnam Book 3”) and #4 (“SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences In Vietnam Book 4”) are all available on Amazon, or from me.PHOTOS: Cai Cai from the air / SSG Anderson behind our bar / common room / my room (my photos)SLURP SENDS!